Memorial Day is when I think about those who died defending our country. I also think about those decorated heroes who risked all to protect their brothers in combat.
My college tennis coach, Doyle Royal, was one of those. When I played for Maryland, there were rumors that he had taken a machine gun out of action to save his platoon, but I just recently learned that he actually, as a second lieutenant in the Army’s 90th Infantry Division, took out a German Panzer, for which he received the Silver Star.
He saved many of his men that day, just prior to the Battle of the Bulge, but Coach never spoke of any of this in the four years I played for him.
Royal, retired tennis and soccer coach at the University of Maryland, was just honored on his 100th birthday. Had it not been for “Coach,” I would have never attended college, which would have certainly sidetracked my life in tennis. He supplemented my scholarship with various jobs at the university in which I interfaced with him more than most players.
He has always been “Coach” to me, and I thanked him years ago for helping me become a better tennis player. But I, regrettably, never thanked him for his service, saving soldiers, or my freedoms as an American. I suppose I just took it for granted. Shame on me!
In our college days, we traveled — sometimes as much as 30 percent of the semester — on road trips down south to play Virginia, North Carolina, Duke, Clemson, etc. Frequently, on our return trip, Coach would get out and run his last 5 miles home. Although he coached both tennis and soccer, he loved his tennis and played tournaments well into his 80s. He certainly inspired me to live a life of fitness.
Joe Yasharoff of Montgomery Community Media interviewed Doyle and published an interesting article in which he cited Doyle’s soccer record of 217-58-18 and a lifetime winning percentage of .771. The current soccer coach, Sasho Cirovski, surprised Coach with a championship ring for his 1968 national championships, correcting a 50-year oversight.
I am old enough to remember when many of our Delmarva soldiers returned from World War II by train in a 1940s-style passenger coach. No doubt, soldiers stepped off along the way in Wilmington, Dover, Seaford and Delmar before reaching Salisbury, Md. Everyone was happy and hugging one another.
Well, not everyone — some of my friends who lost their fathers didn’t join us that day. A few years passed, and I remember somber soldiers, this time taking the passenger coach north, and off to Korea. I suppose I was too young, or perhaps logical, to understand the subtle differences between war and a police action. I did understand the train returned with fewer in the passenger coach than left.
Now many pickleball friends of mine are preparing to make a journey to Albuquerque, N.M., where the bomb that shortened the war was built. It was the bomb that brought those troops home sooner.
There are about 30 Delaware pickleballers who have been doing their precision drills and maneuvers, and I could not help thinking this Memorial Day that they were headed off to a better kind of battle.
The National Senior Games will be played from June 14 to June 25. There will be an army of an estimated 10,000 athletes competing in 20 different sports, and 18 beautiful outdoor dedicated pickleball courts have been built for this event — plus there are indoor courts in a public multiplex. By my count, 2,200 of those athletes are registered to compete just in pickleball.
Nope, it’s not a fad!
Metaphorically speaking, I placed all 30 of our Delaware contingent of pickleballers in a 1940s-style passenger coach. After the whistle, when the train begins to strain and pull out of Millsboro, the crowd becomes excited and everyone waves to one another. Their voices become louder and more animated as the train picks up speed.
I am proud of their hours of training and dedication to do Delaware proud. At an event like the National Senior Games, they all stay together and cheer and support one another in each other’s matches, just like a band of brothers.
Albuquerque is, on average, a mile high, where your lungs burn as you breathe deeper and faster, trying to suck oxygen from the thin air. And that all happens by the third or fourth point. Some will likely take a serious tumble because of the dizziness associated with oxygen deprivation. Arms and shoulders will begin to ache when players over-hit several overheads. Once, my right arm was swollen the size of my legs from my arm traveling faster through less resistance.
When it is finally over, medals distributed, and when the metaphorical passenger coach slows and then stops in Millsboro, they will have ice packs, and bandages on their arms and legs. The entire passenger coach will smell like the training room at a professional football training camp. And they all will be laughing as they exchange stories about the thin air, the falls, the sprained limbs, and immediately they will sign up for next year. That’s pickleball. Wish them well!
Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.
By Vaughn Baker
Special to the Coastal Point